Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Torchy Blane Series: Overall

The Torchy Blane series are predominately whodunnits, but not all entries are. Some are regular run-of-the-mill crimes, sometimes involving a body count, but not even that all the time. This does serve to successfully shake things up enough, and keep the proceedings from getting too stale, but the first time it happens is five movies in, so you're not expecting it.

The mysteries are clever and well-written for the most part. They sometimes get a bit confusing or underwhelming, but even for the lesser mysteries, I found the reveals unexpected. The exclusively criminal plotlines are about half-and-half. Torchy Blane in Panama and ...Plays with Dynamite are both dull, but ...Gets Her Man and ...Runs for Mayor are pretty thrilling, even if their plots aren't the most interesting in places.

Surprisingly for its time, this series actually maintains a good continuity! As each film goes on, there's a clear progression of events. I wondered how long this would last, because once you make each film more than an individual story and set an endgame up, the series will presumably come to an end if the two heroes ever get hitched, not because Torchy would actually quit her job, but because her getting help from the police would unavoidably be seen as favouritism if she's married to the precinct detective. How does the series solve this conundrum, you ask? Simple-It ignores it completely!

The series starts taking an immediate downturn after Torchy Blane in Panama. The casting change really screws things up, and any previous continuity is either ignored or slightly contradicted. From this point on, the original actors return, but just in standalone stories. There are no more ongoing plot points, which wouldn't've been an issue if things were like that from the start, but they weren't, so it's a downgrade. Because of each film now being self-contained, the second casting change-up doesn't have as big an impact as the first.

One oddity is how Torchy and Steve never get married! In the first few it makes sense, as we're seeing the progression of a boyfriend and girlfriend to fiancees, and then the two planning the upcoming wedding. But after the fourth movie, we're stuck in a perpetual rut of 'We're not married yet. Oh, let's get married!' by the end of every film, only to never be followed up on. It's pretty annoying! Just get the two hitched already, dammit!

As mentioned in the review, Torchy Runs for Mayor in many ways actually feels like a finale, which was unexpected for the period. Even down to it being the last turn by Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane, it feels like the end, so it's all the more disappointing when a further movie was made, with two new actors in the main roles, no less. I'm at least glad for Torchy Plays with Dynamite's existence on the grounds that it undoes the dreadful ending to Runs for Mayor.

Minor continuity hiccups include the name of Torchy's newspaper, which is the Daily Star for most of the series, but the Morning Herald in at least a couple. There's also how Torchy's real first name changes from Theresa to Helena in-between movies. Granted, her name is only ever mentioned once, so I suppose I could cut the writer of Torchy Plays with Dynamite some slack...but then again, this info should've been written down somewhere! And it's revealed in only the second movie, ya chumps! Do your homework!

For a set of movies from the 1930s, you'd expect these to be a pretty sexist bunch, being dated at the least. They're far from it actually, for the most part. The first few movies show Torchy as an empowered female character and she's never shamed or belittled for her job, or for being snoopy and inquisitive. She doesn't seek out anyone's approval (well, except her boss's, anyway, being a reporter and all), and if she wants to do something as crazy as join in on an around-the-world race, she'll go right ahead and do it. The same goes for running for mayor in order to stamp out corruption. There's an annoying implication that when Torchy gets married, she'll have to quit her job, but you wouldn't expect her to buy into that societal bullcrap like everyone else does, and whenever in later entries Steve says stuff like 'When are you gonna settle down and quit that job of yours and marry me?', she often ignores him in favour of going for a scoop. The ending to the third film is definitely a surprise, for sure! Torchy Runs for Mayor totally sinks things though, with a truly aggravating ending, that's thankfully ignored by the next entry. This is a time when I'm glad a series got needlessly prolonged!

Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane are great as Torchy Blane and Steve McBride, sharing much-loved chemistry, and getting plenty of hilarious dialogue. Lola Lane and Paul Kelly very nearly flounder when they take the reins, as they have none of the famous chemistry, nor do they even really work to emulate their parts. Following that, Farrell and MacLane were back for the next three films, before being once again replaced in the ninth and final one by Jane Wyman and Allen Jenkins. They do much better than Lane and Kelly, having clearly watched the other movies and making the effort to act like the actors they were replacing. It also helps that they look a little like them, too, unlike the previous replacements.

Ted Kennedy is the MVP as Gahagan. He's comic relief who's actually funny, never annoying, and he even contributes to the action! His roles in the earlier films are smaller, but as the series goes on, his parts get bigger and bigger, especially from Torchy Blane in Panama onwards.

There's a steady supporting cast present, from police captain McTavish, to the ever forgetful desk sergeant, and Torchy's boss Maxie. None of these characters make it into every movie, and occasionally they're even recast, but their presence is still appreciated, as it keeps things tethered, whereas if let's say No. 5 had no familiar faces on top of its drastic casting change, it would've fared even worse!

Musically, everything here is sound (heh). It's a little disappointing that every entry has the same opening theme, but it's consistent, I guess.

Every film is about 58 minutes to an hour long, which was the usual runtime back then. It may be small potatoes now, but that was a feature length back in the 1930s, and the people behind the scenes knew how to work with it too, producing films that never felt constrained by their short lengths. Something I found amusing is the production periods. The first three entries all came out in 1937, the next three were all in 1938, and the final ones were 1939. Three movies per year! Man, they sure got 'em out quickly back in the day, didn't they!

To finish, the Torchy Blane series is a fantastic bunch of pictures! They're not all quality material, and some are even worth skipping depending on the viewer, but overall it's really good, providing hours of thoroughly entertaining murder-mystery fare...

The Torchy Blane Series: Part 3 (-1939)

Torchy Blane in Chinatown

Three antiques dealers have seemingly earnt the ire of a vast criminal gang in China by shipping a  set of jade tablets from the country, on behalf of Senator Baldwin and his soon-to-be son-in-law Dick Staunton. One by one, the dealers are murdered, and neither the dire warnings by the gang ahead of time, not the heavy police protection can save these men. However, can Torchy Blane?...

So, Torchy Blane is going to Chinatown? That idea has some promise, and it won't end up being handled horribly, will it?...Will it?! Well that'll take a bit of explaining. The movie's not racist, just very awkward in its wording. For example, there's a moment during the engagement party when Steve sees who the entertainers are, and exclaims "Chinamen!". He's concerned because there's a large gang of Chinese criminals after those he's protecting, plus two people are already dead, so he's understandably suspicious, but the writer really could've worded that better! As things go on, the awkwardness continues, and it proves to be very nearly just as annoying as if it were just plain racist.

The term 'Chinaman' is used often, to an annoying degree. It's not as bad as if people were casually dropping the n-word though, at least. I felt it was amusingly telling that every Chinese suspect turns out to be innocent, and for nearly the whole movie, I had an inkling the killer was really white. Come the climax, when Staunton is handing the ransom over to the masked Chinese gangsters, they say stuff like "You no bling money" and "You are velly wise", and refer to a "Submaline!". At first this is facepalm-worthy beyond belief, HOWEVER!!! Wouldn't you know it, the villains are a bunch of racist white bozos after all! There was so little time of the movie left that I was afraid the borderline racist dialogue was meant to be genuine, but no, the movie was actually being subversive!

I have two big problems with the plot. The first is that it's never really about neato Oriental stuff. It's like there was a pre-written script about protecting antiques dealers from harm, and they wrote everything else around it, with that plot getting the lion's share of focus, while the added material basically amounted to set dressing.

My second problem is that the mystery is unsolvable for the viewer. The killer could be any one of 4000 Chinese people we've never seen before, and never see on-screen, so either the mystery is one where the identity of the killer isn't necessary, or it'll be revealed that the antagonist is really one of the main supporting cast, and that runs the risk of making all the Chinatown stuff seem irrelevant, and annoys the audience by having such a heavy focus for so long on one aspect, only to turn around and say none of it was actually important. Making things worse is that we're not privy to the clues Torchy receives that crack the mystery wide open for her.

The ending is rushed and absolutely ridiculous, but come the unmasking, it's awesome, and redeems the whole film! Torchy at first doesn't seem to be playing any part, but not to worry, she does. The identity of the crooks is certainly something!

Outside of the main story, the writing in Torchy Blane in Chinatown is decent, and there's an amusing line here and there, like the sleepy Torchy protesting to Steve "Speaking man to man, I'm a woman after all, and, well, I'm exhausted.".

The acting's all pretty standard.  The two leads are fine as usual. Tom Kennedy is a bit underused this time, especially when compared to his roles in previous outings, and it really doesn't help when some of his lines are more than a little awkward in regards to race relations. He's a little more prominent in the ending though.

Everyone else is alright, though three of the actors are pretty hard to tell apart. Thankfully one of them dies before too long, so that ceases to be an issue by a third (or would that be by two thirds?). Finally, the expert professor that Steve consults is actually played by an Asian! Every Asian character here is, actually, despite the fact that some are masked, and none are credited (this being a 1930s production after all, with no-one beyond the leads and a few lucky others getting the privilege of an unnamed credit.). Nice to know the film didn't get lazy and just hire all white dudes.

The effects here are pretty good, whenever they're present, such as the bomb-gutted cellar. The 'submaline' looks so convincing it might actually be real! If not, I commend the set design as well as William Beaudine's fab direction.

When McBride is urging the senator to cut the engagement part short and send all his guests home, I like to think a similar conversation was going on behind the scenes at the same time. "Listen up everyone, we've gotta get all these extras outta here, toot sweet. We're not paying any more than we have to!"

For the first 50+ minutes, Torchy Blane in Chinatown is wholly unremarkable, and possibly the dullest entry in the entire series. It picks up steam in the final minutes, but that doesn't save the picture as a whole. If you're not a fan of the series I wouldn't recommend it, but it's not so bad that it's worth skipping over if you're marathoning all 9 films...

Torchy Runs for Mayor

The sinister Doctor Dolan has the city's mayor comfortable in his pocket, and only Torchy Blane is brave enough to speak out against him, using all the overhanded and underhanded methods at her disposal, and battling everything Dolan throws at her. However, when the opposing candidate that Torchy finds to run against Dolan is murdered, she ends up having to run herself, hoping the same grisly fate doesn't befall her...

This is the most serious Torchy Blane movie, weaving a pretty straightforward tale of government corruption, with only the occasional snappy line or light scene with Gahagan as respite.

I quite liked the structure  in how instead of simply showing Torchy reacting to a murder, we're really getting a full-on view of her journalistic smarts, and how she goes about her job. It's a little disappointing that there's no mystery, and the killer is exactly who everyone think it is, but once again it potentially allows for a better fleshed-out antagonist!...Or at least it would if the villain here wasn't so dull. He's not awful, but he doesn't really have any motivation that we know of.

It takes forever for the proceedings to live up to the title, but that does eventually happen. I don't like that it isn't Torchy's idea but instead a joke by Steven and Captain McTavish, but I do enjoy how she rolls with it, much to the surprise of the two guys.

Not everything is handled well here though. The murder feels pointless and happens to a character we've barely seen and know nothing about, nor does their death really have much impact. There's also a major kidnapping that's completely offscreen! Other issues include how the incumbent mayor vanishes after a while without a mention, reducing the number of seen accomplices to Dolan's vast criminal enterprise to a total of one! At least he gains a few more by the climax, but we never get a good impression of the scale of his gang.

I like how supportive both the paper and the police are of Torchy's crusade (until outside forces compel them to cut it out, anyway). Maxie himseldf doesn't tell her no, and for once McTavish isn't telling Torchy to lay off. He knows she's acquired Dolan's little red book, through 'less than agreeable' methods to boot, but he doesn't care.

The climax is genuinely thrilling! The characters are in real danger, with the audience really feeling tense about whether or not they'll get out of this one ok, and the action is really good, as well as how a certain plot point is going to come into play for Dolan! Unfortunately a certain explosion is pretty underwhelming. I was expecting the whole car to go up. If I had to pick an issue with the finale though, it's that Torchy does literally nothing, directly or indirectly. She's barely even conscious for most of the final 15 minutes.

Finally, and this is a bit of a spoiler, but it bears discussion, especially given what occurs after it/afterwards. Torchy actually wins! She becomes mayor! Going in to this movie you know she's not, because the status quo isn't gonna change that drastically, but you expect her to just drop out of the race by the end, not to actually win! So what does this mean then? It means this movie has the most maddening fucking ending possible! Are you FUCKING kidding me with this shit? And great, now I've sworn up a storm in what was meant to be a family friendly review for an old movie. I bet monocles are being popped at this moment.

This is the most sexist of the series. In other movies, Steve has insisted that Torchy give up her job to marry him, but he's always seen as the fool in these isolated moments, with Torchy promptly ignoring him and chasing a hot scoop. The same is true here, but we get more than one scene like this, and they're really cringeworthy. Funny, but cringeworthy. Making things worse of course is Torchy actually coming around on the subject by the end, instead of further shattering this glass ceiling for the women in the audience, showing that they too can be mayor if they have the skills and put their mind to it.

Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane are very good in their final outings as Torchy and Steve, and I say adieu to them with a salute. Ted Kennedy gets another bigger role here, as does Frank Shannon's Captain McTavish. John Miljan falters a couple of times, but otherwise he's pretty good as the villain.

Overall, the story of Torchy Runs for Mayor is special and important enough that it's a fitting end for the series, and wraps everything up quite well! So much here feels like a final conclusion, even down to the ending, bar the final 30 seconds. It certainly has its negatives, but that shouldn't stop you from ever watching the film...

Torchy Blane...Playing with Dynamite

Brutal crook Denver Eddie is wreaking havoc all over the country, and a $5000 dollar reward is on his head that Torchy Blane is keen to collect. Keeping her true plan a secret from Steve at first, she gets herself thrown in prison in order to get pally with Eddie's girlfriend, jailed on a shoplifting charge. With Steve's help, Torchy arranges a jailbreak, but will her plan work, or will Denver Eddie realize what's happening, and blow Torchy's plan up in her face?...

Even though the Torchy Blane series ostensibly/for all intents and purposes ended with the last movie, there's now another one, released in the very same year, yet again with two new actors as Torchy and Steve. This time I believe Glenda Farrell had simply left the studio, and maybe the producers figured "Ehh, with her gone we might as well ditch MacLane too, since the magic is in the pair.".

Contrary to Lola Lane and Paul Kelly, Jane Wyman and Allen Jenkins actually look the part, and have clearly done their homework. Wyman in particular, nails the demeanour of the characters, which is great. Not as good as Glenda Farrell, but in a pinch, she's a good substitute. I was especially surprised by Jenkins being cast, as he was a predominately comic actor, and being a more heavyset guy, coupled with not being seen as a conventionally handsome heartthrob meant he didn't often get to play the serious lead (as far as I know, anyway. I could be hilariously wrong), and was frequently cast as a comic buffoon, sometimes in police roles not too dissimilar from Tom Kennedy's Gahagan! In a way, I liked Jenkins' Steve more than Barton MacLane's, but that may just be because I like Allen Jenkins as an actor more.

The rest of the acting is all fine. Ted Kennedy has stuck around the entire series, and it's always fun seeing him do his stuff, as well as a familiar face. On that note, it's surreal seeing the leads change casting while all the other supporting actors stay the same.

The plot here is boring. It takes forever to properly start, wasting our time with Torchy's attempt at getting herself thrown in jail (what she does, by the way, is pretty horrid!). When things do finally start, we're hardly treated to a compelling story. It was painfully telling when the 'wrestling Gahagan' subplot starts, and it's legitimately more interesting than the main stuff! Man, just think about it! We could've had a whodunnit at a popular gym, and Gahagan has to go undercover, getting back to his roots as a wrassler and reuniting with old acquaintances. That could've been neat! Thankfully the subplot isn't shortchanged or anything, and it's entertaining enough as it is.

Denver Eddie is a non-presence as a villain, and his girlfriend Jackie gets way more screentime. Sheila Bromley plays her pretty cold and aloof to start, but after the jailbreak she turns into a soft cushion. Not bad, she just loses her prior edge. When Eddie finally shows up, he's ok. The ending doesn't resolve anything for Jackie though.

The climax is pretty standard stuff, and Torchy doesn't really do anything. I like who does though, even if in an indirect manner. There are a couple of pretty amusing moments here and there. One is what Steve does to the first of Eddie's goons in the climax, and the second is the unintentionally hilariously specific guy who recognises Torchy at the boxing match.

Less funny are the recycled plot elements from other movies in the series, such as Torchy getting rebuked by a young traffic cop with no idea who she is, and her hanging out articles of clothing by a window as a signal. These aren't anything major, but it still smacks of at least mild laziness.

One last thing to mention is the title. I don't really like how it's written. Some posters instead read Torchy Plays with Dynamite, and I feel that sounds much better, gelling well with the mostly-consistent series titles so far. Between this and Once Upon a Time...The Mexican Revolution, I guess I'm just not much of a fan of titles with ellipses in them.

Torchy Blane...Playing with Dynamite is sadly the worst in the series, even moreso than Panama. Some aspects are better than that entry, but overall it comes off worse for me by just a smidgen. Making things worse is not only that this is the final movie in the series, but follows what was already a surprisingly fitting finale for an era of cinema when franchises didn't get true conclusions.

Well, that just about does it for the Torchy Blane series! Next up will be an overall look at the series, and then I'll be done!

The Torchy Blane Series: Part 2 (-1938-)

Blondes at Work

The police and papers are at loggerheads regarding the constant scoops Torchy Blane gets, so Steve McBride's boss tells him to cut her out of the loop. He tries, but trough a clever ploy, she turns Gahagan's diary into a steady stream of new information on cases, specifically the murder of department store manager Marvin Spencer...

What I was most looking forward to from this entry in the series was the progression of Torchy and Steve's relationship after the last movie. It's the kinda thing where at this point, it can't really progress without the series ending, due to the clear conflict of interest. For that reason, I wish the series didn't place so much emphasis on this plot point, and that way it could've just gone on for longer with no trouble.

Moving on to the bigger story. It's a real let-down. For the first 20 minutes, we know nothing about the murder victim besides his occupation, nor why anyone would want to kill him. Before that point, all the focus is given to Torchy and Steve's 'game of wits'. From then on, things don't improve, and we learn very little more besides the location of the murder weapon. The police are convinced the one suspect is the killer, and as far as the audience is concerned they may well be, because we've seen nothing to indicate it's anyone else. But then again, we don't see anything indicating it's even Maitland Greer, who seems to first appear a whole 40 minutes in, simply having been spoken of before then, leaving me wondering who he even was. By the end, I was lost. The trial segment is confusing, with Torchy's plan being needlessly complicated, and making little sense until we finally realize what it was all about in the last two minutes...Yeah, you heard that right. The last two minutes! As far as the cast knows up to that point, Greer is still the killer, leaving me to wonder if the movie's going to unfurl a twist, explain it, AND have a denouement, all in under 120 seconds, or perhaps Greer really is the murderer, and the writer didn't care to write a mystery this time round the garden. I won't say which, but needless to say, the ending is disappointing as hell , and really needed more time and foreshadowing, then it might've been more successful.

Torchy is a real bitch in this movie. Using the info she secretly acquires to further her investigation and ultimately show Steve up is all fine and dandy, but publishing it in her paper?! Teresa, dude, that is not cool! She does it the whole movie, often screwing things up for the police, like causing a suspect to go on the run.

Steve is ok, though it's a shame he and Torchy don't interact much, and he's perpetually pissed off at her in this entry. Gahagan is used well, and I hope he does become the next S.S. Van Dine! He has an optimism that'd be arrogant if he wasn't so doofily naive. The discovery of his unhelpfully helpful diary is amusing. I was hoping Steve would use it to feed Torchy false info on the case, but what he actually does still works.

While the overall plot didn't impress much, the dialogue remains snappy. Cop: "Say, she's got something buzzing in her bonnet."-Steve: "Yeah, and the chances are I'll get stung by it.".

One interesting thing here is that the film shows a Chinese laundryman in a good way! To explain, there were of course plenty of Chinese laundromats, which is where the common stereotype of the time was borne from, so simply showing one isn't racist or stereotypical. It all depends on the framing, and in the case of Blondes at Work, the laundryman we see speaks good English, wears a suit and tie, and isn't demeaned for his position. What a relief!

The acting's bearable. The three leads continue to be exceptional. Rosella Towne is ok except when she has to be emotional. Then she's hilarious. Her trigger-happy friend (Betty Compson) is squeaky-voiced like she just stepped out of a low-rent gangster flick, but otherwise competent in her one and only scene. Donald Briggs is likewise competent as Greer, but gets almost nothing to do but look slightly smug. John Ridgely is a welcome addition as the rookie beat cop that Torchy enlists the help of, but he's out of the movie early on.

Blondes at Work is underwhelming compared to the previous movies. It's not as enjoyable or clever, or as fun. It feels meaner. It's even irksome down to the title being pluralised! And why isn't Torchy's name in the titles yet?! This isn't about the Bumsteads!...

Torchy Blane in Panama

In the middle of a parade, a bank is robbed and the teller killed. $70,000 dollars has been stolen, and the trail of clues Torchy and Steve find lead them to believe the thief will safely exchange the money down in Panama. They go on a luxury cruise heading for South America, and have reason to believe the murderous robber might be taking the trip with them...

Say, would you agree that actors are chumps? Easily replaceable lightweights. After all, the faces aren't what the common rabblerousers in/from the streets come to see! They come for our writing, and only that...I mean, writers hardly deserve that much either, but at least they have the quiet dignity to always stay behind the camera. Well, except for that uppity Viña Delmar dame!...

Yeah, the above is pretty much what the makers of this film thought. They genuinely thought Glenda Farrell and Barton Maclane were disposable! I suppose the opinion must've been that 'The Torchy Blane series is a great success, raking in heaps of cash, but some of that goes to the salaries of our two leads, and now that they're big-name, we could do with finding some cheaper alternatives.'. This went about as well as you can imagine, and the fan outcry was large enough that the original actors were back by the very next movie.

Lola Lane and Paul Kelly are immediately wrong for the role, and when they introduce themselves as their respective characters, my response to the screen was "No you are not". They have none of the chemistry that Farrell and MacLane had right from the get go, or that they'd built up over the course of three further movies. As things go on, the two actors eventually get at least a little rapport (or maybe I just got used to them), but it's for naught seeing how they'll be gone by the next film.

Getting to the plot, it's another disappointment. It's not even a whodunnit! The murder victim is a random bank teller who was shot by a robber, and we find out who he is only 20 or so minutes in. No misdirect, no twist showing him getting murdered, with us now wondering who knocked him off. The investigation also doesn't get started until a fair ways in, and the extent of it is looking at people's money, then having a hunch this one guy's no good. The larger plot wasn't all that thrilling either. It turns out this nefarious bank robber is stealing this money to!...errr, get rich, I guess. No real motivation beyond "MONEY!".

One little thing that bugged me was how Steve feels defeated when he hasn't spotted the stolen money along the trip through Central and South America, even though the whole point of Torchy's theory is that the thief won't spread it out until he's in Panama. Not close to. In!

The ending is utterly standard, but I did like Torchy's clever idea.

The dialogue here isn't nearly as clever in previous entries. It's strange to see it take such a downturn along with the casting change. Gahagan's poem at the end isn't too bad though, and closes out the movie/film well.

Some of the barbs against Gahagan feel just plain mean-spirited, especially since he's at his most useful/proactive here. Thankfully these stop after a while, and the film is better in this department than Blondes at Work was. Gahagan's subplot is pretty amusing, even though we all wish his putting the moves on the lovely señoritas wouldn't be ruined by that asshole journalist Canby. At least he gets his own back by the end though, and overall, the character has quite a meaty role this time round.

Speaking of Canby, he's a bit of a superfluous addition, but I don't begrudge his presence too much, because he's another character the cast can interact with, and bounce dialogue off. The remainder of the characters are pretty unexplored, most notably the villain. The only saving grace with him is the actor portraying him, which I'll get to in a second.

The movie looks good for the most part, but some scenes look a bit underfunded. Only about 15 minutes at most are set in Panama, too, with the story taking almost zero advantage of the setting. Torchy's workplace (what little we see of it) is way smaller and cheaper looking, and all previous continuity has been all but forgotten, which gets distracting at times, but for the most part things are pretty standalone.

As for Lola Lane and Paul Kelly, they're not bad, just in over their heads trying to play these already perfectly-played characters. They're a bit awkward to begin with, but once you get used to 'em, they're not all bad. The actor playing the villainous bank thief seemed familiar to me for a while, but a couldn't place him. Then, close to the end it hit me-Anthony Averill! I noticed he was in the movie thanks to the credits, but my watching those and the movie itself was separated by nearly a week, so I'd plum forgotten.

Torchy Blane in Panama is probably worth just skipped, but if you like Ted Kennedy and his character, then there's a bit to enjoy...

Torchy Gets Her Man

A notorious counterfeiter, Bailey, is in town, and has set his sights on the local racetrack as a good place to spread his funny money, using his cover as a secret service agent to fool the police, getting chummy with Steve McBride. He didn't count on the snooping Torchy Blane though, and while she's at first simply dogging his tracks to find out what juicy story Steve isn't telling her, she soon realizes what's really going on, and vies to stop it with the help of an on-break Gahagan...

Torchy Gets Her Man opens with a warning sign right from the start, with the simple credit that this production is directed by William Beaudine. Dear God, no! Now, don't get me wrong, I like William Beaudine, but, err, he wasn't known for being hired for A-list productions. Not at this point in time, anyway. To me this signaled there'd be a drop in both budget, and A-picture status. Did this fear come true, though? No way! This is just as good as previous outings, and actually better than the last two. Its plot is interesting, it's got some twists and turns, and culminates with a pretty satisfying ending, too.

After the last movie, it seems clear that murder-mystery wasn't writer Albert DeMond's forte, and that's also apparent with this movie, as there's not even a murder in it! It's purely a crime. This didn't really bother me this time round, as from the get-go it makes no bones about being anything else.
After his first job on the series resulted in Torchy Bane in Panama, I was skeptical, but I'm now willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, and chalk that up to...*does further research* Oh, bugger. You ever have that experience where you write literally an entire paragraph, only to then realize it's all based on erroneous info? Panama was written by George Bricker. DeMond wrote Blondes at Work! That movie still kinda sucked, so I guess my point still stands, but goshdamn do I hate it when this happens...

Just as/with the last movie, Gahagan gets plenty to do here, possibly moreso than any other film in the series, and he's much appreciated. I didn't realize until hours after watching, but his ending wasn't as unlucky as I expected! We see him making loads of cash at the races, but because of the status quo, I assumed he'd be out of pocket by the end of the film, probably because of his winnings being counterfeit (though that'd be the racetrack's problem, not his, and he'd still be entitled to the money), but he actually gets to keep it all! Steve doesn't get as much screentime, nor a whole lot of interaction with Torchy, but he gets enough, and the film is only an hour long, after all.

The villain of the piece is the best so far in the entire series! Perhaps it's because he gets more screentime and development, since we know he's the bad guy from pretty much the start. I also liked the dynamic he has with Steve, pretending to be a new friend and trusted confidant. It reminded me of the Enzo Castellari film Eagles Over London.

Finally, the MVP by far is Blitzen! He's an amazing dog, and his canine sleuthing is lots of fun to watch, adding something new to the story as well. And yes, he is a German Shepherd. They really do make the best police dogs!

Following Panama, the Daily Star's offices are back to normal, looking like an actual newspaper den rather than one small cramped room with a single guy in it. Overall this looks much better than that movie, and it looks like care was made in putting it together.

I was really worried about the direction of the Torchy Blane series after the casting shake-up, but luckily it's endured. Sure, Blondes at Work wasn't very good, and nor was the following entry, but it's well and truly back on its feet by Torchy Gets Her Man...

The Torchy Blane Series: Part 1 (1937-)

A common trope in cinema of the 1930s was that of a tough-as-nails female reporter, going after a story like a bloodhound, the unhelpful police be darned, and solving whatever crime or mystery is plaguing the city. There were many films like this, but perhaps none did it better than the most notable of them all-The Torchy Blane series...

Smart Blonde

Nightclub owner Fitz Mularkey is looking to get out of the gambling racket and sell his business to 'Tiny' Torgenson, an old friend who he can trust to run the place legitimately. This riles up Fitz's criminal former associates, who were offering more money so they could possess the club for their own less-than-legal means. Before the deal can be finalised, Torgenson is shot to death, and it's up to ace reporter Torchy Blane and her exasperated detective boyfriend Steve McBride to uncover the truth...

Smart Blonde is an entertaining enough first entry in this series. Not really a whole lot to say about it. It's paced well, staged decently, and well-written, too. There's witty dialogue aplenty between Torchy and Steve. The mystery seemed like it was shaping up to be a very predictable one whichever way it went, but I was eventually proven wrong, as I wasn't expecting how it ended up!

Despite coming from 1937, Smart Blonde is hardly cringeworthy. Its gender politics aren't insulting to women, and Torchy is never shamed for being snoopy, or for being a journalist, as much as she bugs McBride   There's only one scene that's a little awkward for its time, and it's when McBride throws some money to a few black valets after getting help from them, and their reaction to it. It's not particularly egregious, it's just the one scene, and it's only a few seconds long, but it might be a little annoying.

Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane work great together, sharing a fabulous chemistry that only comes along once in a while.

Tom Kennedy is fun as the somewhat dim yet poetic comic relief Gahagan, though this being the first entry in the series, it took me a little bit before I worked out who he was. Jane Wyman has a cute small role, with an even cuter dog! Her part is pretty amusing, given her future involvement in the series!

Smart Blonde is a very good introduction to this series, and a fine 1930s era mystery. It might not be the greatest whodunnit in the world, but it's fun to watch, and at least mildly clever...

Fly-Away Baby

A jeweler has been murdered, and his collection of expensive diamonds are missing. Lucien 'Sonny' Croy, a rich socialite and acquaintance of the dead man, is suspected by Torchy to be the killer, especially when he announces an around the world trip, which may very well be a means to sell the stolen goods. Another competitor in the trip is Hugie Sprague, turning it into a race around the world. They'll both have to watch their backs for Torchy Blane though, who won't let a total lack of voyaging experience stop her from traveling halfway across the world for a story...

Fly-Away Baby is an improvement on its predecessor, definitely not coming across as a cheap cash-in sequel. The story's well-written, and engaging to watch. Unfortunately the whodunnit aspect kinda takes a hit when we get so much focus on Croy and his trip, and not enough investigation or searching for clues. In a sense though, I rather like this change in structure, as it shows how dogged and determined Torchy is, and it changes things up, too, so the series won't get stale. In-case you're wondering if there are any twists and turns, well it seemed like things were shaping up to be like that for a brief period. It was at the point of the murder in Germany when I thought 'Ooh, maybe it'll turn out the obvious culprit isn't the killer after al...oh wait, the movie just showed it was him. Darn.'. I didn't much care for the final revelation at the end. Perhaps if it'd been better foreshadowed, and not rushed through in the final 4 minutes, it would've carried more weight.

It's interesting how the movie is comfortably situated in its New York setting for half its runtime, then at the halfway point it becomes a globetrotting adventure! You'd've never expected it to leave its set-bound trappings for more lush set-bound trappings, but there you go! The race concept confused me though, as none of the three participants are pilots (so the achievement is hardly theirs), and also because we also see them taking passenger planes. Then how is it a race?

I really dug Gahagan's story. At first his having resigned meant he wasn't in the story much, but when we realize that he's going on the plane trip (something even Steve doesn't get to do), I was super pleased, especially when we realize why he's doing it! It paints the character as endearing, as well as smart in a way, despite himself. Then comes a frustrating moment when he lets Sprague handle his camera, and that's the beginning of the end of poor Gahagan's luck!

Torchy's voracious appetite is amusing ("You can smell a porterhouse further than any woman I know."),  her fashion doubly so. She's a snappy dresser. Some would say otherwise, but those people are cock-eyed stooges. McBride is good, though he kinda gets shafted in the second half by not coming along on the trip. He does eventually show up again, getting stuff to do.

I liked that Torchy's coworkers are seen to be supportive of her being a female journalist, and actively encourage her writing articles key to her gender. There is an irksome but thankfully underplayed notion that some characters have about Torchy's status at the paper if she gets married, with the implication that once she gets hitched she'll be obligated to quit her job, but you get the feeling that Torchy would laugh such talk off like stray bullets.

I may have joked about sets before, but the Torchy Blane films actually look quite good! There's a healthy balance of indoor and outdoor scenes, and in this particular entry, we get a decent sense of other countries, like Hawaii ( know what I mean!), though we only have the film's word to go on that the leads are really in Germany, otherwise it doesn't look very distinctive. The airship set looks great! So good that I kinda wish more of the film was set within its confines. I wonder if was a set made for this movie, or if it was already around? And did it make it into future movies? Perhaps it really was a zeppelin! As everyone goes around the globe, stock footage is spliced into the action well, never seeming fake.

The acting is once again all good. Gordon Oliver plays the role of an utter dickhead to a tee as Lucien Croy, while Hugh O'Connell is a little entertaining as Spraigh. Marcia Ralston is ok, improving greatly once she becomes a woman scorned, though doesn't appear much regardless.

One last thing, it was cool seeing an older map, with former country or region names like Persia, Siam, Indochina, and Yugoslavia, and noticing what nations aren't present yet.

True to its title, Fly-Away Baby takes this series in a higher direction, and we'll see if that continues...

The Adventurous Blonde

Annoyed at the constant help Torchy Blane gets from the police, the other journalists in town decide to arrange a practical joke for her, doubling as a wedding present. They pay to arrange a fake murder, with rich socialite/actor Harvey Hammond as the victim, but things go awry when he actually ends up dead...

The Adventurous Blonde is yet another fun Torchy Blane entry. Again I commend the series for its progression of continuity, with Torchy and Steve's wedding on the horizon The annoying matter of what'll become of Torchy's career once she gets married crops up once again, yet the police chief who's [badgering] McBride about it actually has good reason, at least partially. That of conflict of interest, what with Torchy being potentially seen as receiving favouritism from her husband. This culminates in a really surprising way by the end! My lips are sealed.

Getting to the mystery itself, it starts off crackingly enough, with a neat driving push, as well as a great twist to really get things rolling. Torchy playing all sides as part of a clever ploy is interesting, and the conclusion is great. It's just a shame the motives are all so boring. The motives as follows are 'Jealous that Harvey might leave me for her', 'Jealous that Harvey might ditch me and stay with her', 'Jealous Harvey might try and steal my girlfriend's affections', and 'Jealous Harvey ditched me and stayed with her'. They're all based around the same thing!

One thing I really liked about the end (which I can't spoil) is that a character XX's some XXs, but surprisingly doesn't XX like they usually do when attempting XX in stories like this. Modern medicine succeeds again!

The cast is good. The leads are still clearly enjoying themselves. The characters of Grace and Tracy are not only interchangeable, but damn near impossible to tell apart, in looks or in actions. The actor playing the murder victim is pretty amusing, what little we see of him. It's funny seeing how much the snooty Harvey really gets into his fake murder, as opposed to being a humourless stiff. Lastly, it was cool seeing Bobby Watson in a role other than Hitler, who he was wont to portray.

The writing here continues to amuse-Steve: "I never know what you're gonna do next."-Torchy: "You wait 'till we're married!"

There was one funny goof I noticed when the enraged coroner is storming into the Hammond manor to tell McBride he's not really dead, only to discover there really has been a murder. We see the corpse breathing!

While the plot isn't quite as well scripted as prior outings, this is still definitely worth a watch...